Are Utah social studies standards doing their job?

Teaching ‘equality before the law’ in grades K-6

Written by Christine Cooke

November 13, 2020

This is part 4 in Sutherland’s new series that seeks to examine how Utah education standards prepare students to be active citizens. In this part, we analyze current social studies standards for grades K-6. While there are United States Government and Citizenship standards in grades 7-12, there are no separate civics education standards in grades K-6.

According to a quote attributed to Aristotle, “The only stable state is the one in which all men are equal before the law.”

The hope that all people are equal before the law is an ideal embedded in America’s founding documents – a promise that has taken time to fulfill – but an ideal that has inspired the world for centuries. What it means to be equal before the law will remain a topic for social debate and legal precedent. But, as it stands, America has worked hard to provide that certain provisions are enshrined in our governing documents, including the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution with its many amendments.

The all-important Declaration of Independence states, “All men are created equal.” Over time, amendments to the Constitution of the United States followed, fleshing out what it means for individual Americans to be equal to one another – specifically, equal before the law. For example, Amendment 13 outlawed slavery; Amendment 14 enshrined the equal protection clause; Amendment 15 secured voting rights regardless of race; and Amendment 19 established voting rights for women.

Early on, our Founders made clear their belief that our education system should teach the concepts that would preserve the new nation. Naturally, this would include any amendments that would come over time.

Because the Utah State Board of Education is currently reviewing the Utah state social studies standards for elementary school grades (kindergarten through sixth grade), Sutherland Institute is seeking to understand how well Utah’s current social studies standards help students fulfill their duties in civil society and government. For this fourth review, we are looking at how well standards teach the concept of “equality before the law.”

To help assess how well the current standards help students fulfill their duties in civil society and government with regard to equality before the law, we have decided to look for two main factors: (1) mentions of the amendments to the Constitution by name (13-15 and 19) and (2) discussion of the substance in these amendments (i.e., the end of slavery, equal protection before the law, right to vote regardless of race or gender).

Grades K-2

In grades K-2, standards, objectives and indicators do not directly reference “equality before the law,” nor do they reference the specific amendments listed above. However, some indirect references may lead teachers and students to these discussions.

Mentions of relevant amendments to the Constitution

No standards reference the specific amendments mentioned above. However, one standard asks students to “identify and explain the significance of various symbols, documents and landmarks.” As an example of which documents they might look at, it mentions the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Certainly, studying the amendments to the Constitution could lead one to identify the amendments that deal most directly with equality before the law, including Amendments 13-15 and 19.

Specifically, one standard asks students to “identify how the rights of selected groups have changed and how the Constitution reflects those changes.” A discussion about such changes would direct students to the amendments to the Constitution listed in this analysis.

Discussion of the general concepts found within the relevant amendments

There are no standards, objectives or indicators that explicitly discuss the concept of equality before the law. At the same time, at least two standards give broad enough prompts that could lead teacher and students to the subject matter. One standard discusses the benefits of citizenship, of which equality before the law is certainly one aspect. Likewise, the standard that suggests students identify and explain the significance of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution ought to lead to learning about the founding principle and ideal of equality.

Grades 3-6

By grades 3-6, standards, objectives and indicators do more than grades K-2 to prompt learning and discussion about the specific amendments of the U.S. Constitution that guarantee equality before the law and to teach those principles as fundamental to our nation.

Mentions of relevant amendments to the Constitution

The standards in these grades ask students to “identify rights of a citizen” and specifically discusses “voting” as an example. This may prompt a discussion about the 15th and 19th amendments, which secured the right to vote regardless of race or gender, respectively.

Discussion of the general concepts found within the relevant amendments

In fourth grade, the standards prompt students to “identify rights of a citizen (e.g. voting, peaceful assembly, freedom of religion).” A discussion about the right to vote being extended to particular groups might encourage a discussion about the relationship between the right to vote and equality before the law.

By fifth grade, standards discuss slavery, and they specifically address the varying degrees of freedom held by different peoples at different times in our history as well as the ideas surrounding the Civil War. Fifth grade also prompts a discussion about the “content and purpose of the Declaration of Independence,” which most likely would suggest learning about the principles embedded in it, namely that “all men are created equal.”

Some indicators in fifth grade ask teachers and students to “analyze the impact of the Constitution on their lives today.” Standards in this grade also address the women’s movement, which may lead to a discussion about women’s equality generally.

Conclusion

As the grades continue from kindergarten to sixth grade, Utah’s K-6 social studies standards build in substance about the concept of equality before the law. Rather than mentioning specific amendments to the Constitution that build a framework of protections of equality before the law, the standards give prompts that could lead to a discussion about the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 19th amendments and the ideals that they aim to achieve.

 

(Note: What’s a “standard”? It is a broad statement of what students are expected to understand and/or know how to do within a certain discipline.  

What’s an “objective”? An objective is a more focused description of what students need to know and/or be able to do within a given standard.

What’s an “indicator”? These are measurable and observable student actions that enable teachers to judge whether a student has mastered a particular objective.)

Utah Core Standards, Objectives and Indicators referenced:

Source: Utah Core Standards, Utah State Board of Education

Second Grade:

Standard 2: Students will recognize and practice civic responsibility in the community, state and nation.

Objective 1: Examine the civic responsibility and demonstrate good citizenship.

Indicators:

(b): Explain the benefits of being a U.S. citizen (e.g. responsibilities, freedoms, opportunities, and the importance of voting in free elections.)

 

Standard 2: Students will recognize and practice civic responsibility in the community, state and nation.

Objective 3: Investigate and show how communities, state, and nation are united by symbols that represent citizenship in our nation.

Indicators:

(c): Identify and explain the significance of various national symbols, documents, and landmarks (e.g. Declaration of Independence, Constitution, flag, Pledge of Allegiance, national monuments, national capitol building.)

 

Fourth Grade:

Standard 3: Students will understand the roles of civic life, politics, and government in the lives of Utah citizens.

Objective 1: Describe the responsibilities and rights of individuals in a representative government as well as in the school and community.

Indicators:

(a): Identify rights of a citizen (e.g. voting, peaceful assembly, freedom of religion).

 

Fifth Grade:

Standard 1: Students will understand how the exploration and colonization of North America transformed human history.

Objective 3: Distinguish between the rights and responsibilities held by different groups of people during the colonial period.

Indicators:

(a): Compare the varying degrees of freedom held by different groups (e.g. American Indians, landowners, women, indentured servants, and enslaved people).

 

Fifth Grade:

Standard 2: Students will understand the chronology and significance of key events leading to self-government.

Objective 1: Describe how the movement toward revolution culminated in a Declaration of Independence.

Indicators:

(c): Explain the content and purpose for the Declaration of Independence

 

Fifth Grade:

Standard 3: Students will understand the rights and responsibilities guaranteed in the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Objective 2: Assess how the US Constitution has been amended and interpreted over time, and the impact these amendments have had on the rights and responsibilities of citizens of the United States.

Indicators:

(b): Identify how the rights of selected groups have changed and how the Constitution reflects those changes (e.g. women, enslaved people)

 

Fifth Grade:

Standard 4: Students will understand that the 19th century was a time of incredible change for the United States, including geographic expansion, constitutional crisis, and economic growth.

Objective 3: Evaluate the course of events of the Civil War and its impact both immediate and long-term.

Indicators:

(b): Identify the key ideas, events, and leaders of the Civil War using primary sources (e.g. Gettysburg Address, Emancipation Proclamation, news accounts, photographic records, and diaries).

 

Fifth Grade:

Standard 5: Students will address the causes, consequences and implications of the emergence of the United States as a world power.

Objective 2: Address the impact of social and political movements in recent United States history.

Indicators:

(a): Identify major social movements of the 20th century (e.g. the women’s movement, the civil rights movement, child labor reforms).

More Insights

Make a Difference

Thanks to a generous operating grant, 100 percent of your gift furthers important research, education efforts and public policy work.

Donate Today

$
Select Payment Method
Personal Info

Credit Card Info
This is a secure SSL encrypted payment.

Donation Total: $25.00 Monthly

Education trends: To 2021 and beyond

Education trends: To 2021 and beyond

Year 2020 disrupted many things, including education. What is the future of education in 2021 and beyond? Ian Rowe, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, spoke about some of today’s most timely education issues at a Sutherland Institute event. Here are three important takeaways from his remarks.

read more

Connect with Sutherland Institute

Join Our Donor Network